Artificial Intelligence: 40% of ‘AI start-ups’ do not have AI
What: A London-based venture capital firm, MMC, reviewed 2,830 European start-ups that were classified as “AI companies” and found that 40% of them did not actually have any AI in their product line. While some of the companies did not claim to be using AI, they were classified as such by analytic companies like CB Insights and Crunchbase and did not bother to correct the impression. MMC say that companies classified as AI raise 15% to 50% more funding than other technology companies .
Commentary: Even companies that can legitimately claim to be using AI are often doing so in use cases such as chatbots which have yet to prove that they add any real value. There is clearly a lot of “dumb money” chasing AI deals (as with blockchain) and we could be heading for another dotcom-style bust.
Retail: Backlash against cashless stores in the US
What: US cities have either passed (New Jersey and Philadelphia) or are contemplating (Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C) laws which forbid cashless stores, because they discriminate against the 14 million Americans who do not have a bank account and those (mainly the poor, the elderly or migrants) who do not have credit cards. 30% of US business is still conducted in cash .
Commentary: Ironically China has no such problems with cashless stores, mainly because of their rapid adoption of smartphone payment systems.
Autonomous Vehicles: New computer vision company receives funding
What: Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will rely on computer vision to analyse images coming from Lidars, radars and cameras. The processing requirements to achieve this in a vehicle are causing concern due to the size and power consumption of the computer needed in the car. An Israeli start-up, Brodmann17, has addressed this problem by developing a deep learning algorithm for machine vision that can run on low-end ARM processors. They have just raised $11m in a Series A round .
Commentary: Investor interest in Brodmann17 is no doubt spurred by the market that precedes autonomous vehicles, namely advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) which are currently being built into high end vehicles and will soon appear in all human-driven cars because they make a material difference to safety. Another Israeli company, MobileEye (now owned by Intel), is the current leader in this field.
Cybersecurity: Google X spinout launches threat intelligence security product
What: Alphabet company, Chronicle, has launched a new security product called Backstory which allows companies to store unlimited amount of security information – log data, alarms, etc – in the cloud, with no time limit. Backstory then uses Google’s search expertise to enable the company to search for security incidents, even if they occurred in the past, and trace their evolution through their systems. Customers are charged according to the size of their organisation and not by the amount of data they store in the cloud. Chronicle plans to use the combined data of all their customers to develop advanced threat intelligence algorithms .
Commentary: While so-called SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) products like Splunk allow an organisation to store and search their log data, the fact that Chronicle can use the combined data of multiple enterprises to train machine learning algorithms to identify threats could be a game changer.
Cyber espionage: Chinese hackers target universities
What: According to Accenture, Chinese hackers have targeted 27 universities (including MIT) in the US, Canada and South East Asia in an attempt to steal research on maritime technology that could be used for warfare. The hacking was identified by the Accenture unit iDefense which noticed that the university networks were pinging servers in China controlled by a well-known hacking group .
Commentary: It is not clear whether the hacking group is associated with the Chinese government (who, needless to say, refused to comment). However, universities are traditionally open in sharing information and have many foreign students so preventing breaches of this nature will be a challenge.
Climate change: predicting climate events is big business
What: US start-up, Jupiter, has just raised $23m to enhance its software to predict the impact of extreme weather events. Jupiter’s big advantage is that it draws on global weather models but can predict risk for specific areas right down to individual buildings and structures in a way that insurance companies can use for their premium calculations. Jupiter already have 3 big insurance companies (QBE, Mitsui, and Nephila) as customers and they must like what they see because they all contributed cash to the latest funding round .
Commentary: While governments dither over the meaning of climate change, commercial entities will increasingly take on the leadership of preparation and amelioration activities in relation to climate change.
Privacy: Anonymized data is not so anonymous
What: It is reasonably well known that it is possible to de-anonymize data, but The New York Times has recently pointed out that at least 75 companies receive precise, almost continuous, location data from apps on your phone. While in theory the owner of the phone is not identified, if the data is associated with any identifier, whether anonymous or not, it is relatively easy to see who the user is. For example, by seeing where the phone is located at night, you can look up the householder from public records. Thereafter it is relatively simple to de-anonymize the individuals in the house by tracking their daily journeys (e.g. someone going to school and spending the day there is either a child or a teacher) .
Commentary: as was pointed out in Tech Omens Issue 29 , insurance companies are already trying to track users’ data to adjust premiums. Being able to identify how often a user, for example, visits a doctor could have big implications for the user’s insurance.
 New York Times
Professor Hugh Bradlow is President of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. He is recognised as a global leader in telecommunications technology, including being named by Global Telecom’s Business in the top 100 most powerful executives in the global telecoms Industry two years in a row, and by Smart Company as one of the 12 most influential people in Australian ICT.